And when the earliest form of social insurance finally came into effect in 1925, it was granted to widowed mothers but not divorced or unmarried ones – a malicious piece of legislation clearly intended to deter women with unconventional lives from living off the state.But although the 1948 National Assistance Act, which replaced the old Poor Law, finally gave unmarried mothers the same (meagre) government aid as widowed mothers, there were still huge practical difficulties for go-it-alone mothers.
That seemed rather grand-sounding for my poor mum, so I investigated and found that a health centre now stood on the site.
When I asked about the Lodge, the woman at the other end of the phone hesitated, dropped her voice and murmured discreetly: "Do you mean the old mother-and-baby home? And that was how I found out about the hidden history of my birthplace, only once hinted at by my secretive mother when she had told me how other girls she knew had "cried and cried for weeks" after giving up their babies for adoption.
Six weeks before her due date, she was sent on to the Edwardian Birdhurst Lodge, run by the evangelical Mission of Hope."In a way it was a relief, because there was a comfort in being with other girls in the same boat, and there was a lovely, sweet, kind woman called Nurse Beach," recalls Gwen.
"But although we handed over the government maternity allowance to pay for our keep, we still had to work very hard at keeping the floors clean, scrubbing the huge staircase and doing all the washing; and they would make us get down on our knees in a group to repent.
The turnover at Birdhurst Lodge was brisk, with each woman's stay limited to three months: six weeks before the birth and six weeks afterwards.
The timing was partly to give the mothers a chance to bond with their babies before deciding whether to have them adopted, but also a calculated move to let enough time elapse to make sure the babies were developmentally healthy, since adoptive couples did not want disabled children.
But I was most interested in Birdhurst, where my mother gave birth to me.
I knew nothing about the strictness of the regime there, until, in the course of researching my family history following my mother's death, I made contact with a woman called Gwen Bishop.
I realised that the "other girls" must have been her fellow inmates in Birdhurst, the missing piece of the jigsaw that showed the humiliating ordeal she had gone through as a woman expecting a baby outside marriage.
In fact, she had been married once, but what really mattered to the moralists of the day was that she wasn't married to the father of her child.
And I further discovered from her address records that she had stayed in a total of three such mother-and-baby homes.